PART ONE: In France
I've made several career changes in my life--from my time at Ford to becoming a Special ED teacher before founding a entrepreneurship education program and taking it global. In the past several years, I've found myself evolving once again: this time taking to this column on the revered Huffington Post to share the stories of both today's leading entrepreneurs and small time business people as well as the economists, physicists and actors that have colored our history.
In that way, the rare books business found me. How better to marry my lifelong love of reading and learning with a business that reveals characters, stories, lives--from today and yesterday?
Bookstores draw us into their magical stacks where you discover new life in the world.
I traveled to Europe a few weeks ago and, for the first time, I didn't attend a conference on youth education, or meet with leading business people on how we can innovate startups worldwide. Instead I explored the opportunities provided by a few select bookstores. In my next articles, I'll share with readers these treasures.
People were telling me, "Steve, why go to Saint Paul's for antiques? Go to Nice!"
Deep down I knew I could never violate my basic belief: never compete.
In fact, I think you should find out what everybody else is doing and then DON'T do that. Instead, you should create and you will meet success there. With this in mind, I researched antique and rare book stores that were not as successful--the ones that had not been discovered or had not capitalized on their riches. My heart beat rapidly as I walked into a La Fenice Antiquites, an incredible antique and book store located at 64 Forhouth Street. I had known of the potential goldmine it held for two years but I was waiting until I was ready to venture in.
Eve Santori was as beautiful a person as the pictures I hunted down of her on the internet. Looking forty five and like Grace Kelly, she was in reality seventy four. Eve was responsible for keeping the store alive for over forty years. Immediately when we met, she showed me what I'd been looking for: eight rare editions of Voltaire that none of my competitors even knew about.
I said, "Anything else?" as we approached our final negotiations.
She looked over at me and winked, saying "I have something for you."
We proceeded to her second floor study on an old-fashioned spiral staircase. I knew that she had something special for me and felt the romance of searching for that unique piece of artwork, or perhaps a book.
"I've been saving this for you," she said. "Close your eyes and turn around. Do not turn back around until I tell you to do so".
A full minute went by and I could hear every single sound. Then, once permitted, I turned back around to find a beautiful three by three piece of artwork on the wall. Framed in silver and backed in black, a tiny picture perched blurrily in front of my sixty year old eyes.
"I don't understand", I pondered. "Take this magnifying glass and look closely" she said, and as my eyes neared the artwork, I realized immediately that I had found something that I had never heard about it.
She said "I bought that in Nice thirty-five years ago and waited for the right person to come in. I knew it was you". "How much? I won't go more than twenty thousand no matter what," I bargained.
"Steve, for you, I give it as a gift".
That is my favorite bookstore in Europe.
Special thanks to Lauren Bailey for her assistance on this article.